Let’s begin with an area of the Mariners’ roster I believed was in greatest need of attention prior to the deadline. Based on the team’s actions, President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto seemingly agreed with me.
Last Friday, the Mariners acquired two-time All-Star Luis Castillo from the Cincinnati Reds, who immediately becomes Seattle’s best starter. Castillo’s presence helps depressurize a rotation that’s been durable, but beginning to feel the strain of the long season.
The Mariners and Atlanta Braves are the only teams with four pitchers to make 20-plus starts this season. However, rookie George Kirby is on a club-designed workload limit and sophomore Logan Gilbert has already surpassed his career-high for innings pitched in a year. Furthermore, the staff’s number haven’t looked great since the All-Star break.
M’s Rotation Since All-Star Break
While Castillo’s arrival is great news for the Mariners, concerns about a lack of rotation depth remain – at least they do for me. To date, Seattle’s starting staff has been fortunate to avoid injuries. Perhaps this trend continues. Then again, if the team were to suffer the loss of a starter to injury, the internal replacement options are limited both in numbers and productivity.
Then there’s the recent struggles of Marco Gonzales, who’s been hit hard in three of his last four outings. Perhaps Gonzales is just working through a rough patch and rebounds. But if the southpaw doesn’t regain his form, the team will be in a similar predicament as it would be with an injury. No suitable substitutes at the ready.
A strength of the team through the first four months season, the bullpen has been taxed lately. Particularly with the rotation covering fewer innings and delivering suboptimal results. Compounding matters, the loss of late-inning arm Diego Castillo to the IL with a shoulder strain.
Even though the Mariners suggest Castillo will return when his 15-day IL stint is over, his absence has demonstrated how the loss of one key arm places a significant strain on the rest of the relief staff. That’s why Dipoto not acquiring at least one established reliever was somewhat surprising to me. The only relief arms recently added were Matthew Boyd and Phillips Valdéz.
Boyd was acquired with catcher Curt Casali from the San Francisco Giants yesterday. The Eastside Catholic High School product hasn’t pitched this season after undergoing offseason surgery to repair his flexor tendon. However, Dipoto told the media he anticipates Boyd will be ready to contribute soon in a multi-inning relief role. In 2021, the left-hander had a 3.89 ERA and a league-average .314 xwOBA in 15 starts with the Detroit Tigers.
Having said that, there is a risk Boyd doesn’t pitch for the Mariners this season. He reported soreness in his elbow during a live batting practice in mid-June. As a result, the Giants shut down the former Oregon State Beaver for a month. A recent bullpen throwing session in late-July went well; perhaps he’s back on track. On the other hand, rehabilitation of an injured body part isn’t linear and further setbacks could occur. Personally, I’m rooting for Boyd to pitch for his hometown club this season.
Valdez was a waiver wire claim from the Boston Red Sox last week and is currently assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma. The right-hander likely pitches with the big-league club at some point this season. Considering the Mariners’ success at helping relievers become the best version of themselves, I wouldn’t base Valdéz’s value to the team on the way it acquired him.
Rookie Matt Brash could represent an upgrade to the bullpen, assuming he can harness his potent stuff. Brash began the season in the Mariners’ rotation, but command issues prompted an assignment to Class-AAA Tacoma in early May. That’s when the team opted to convert the right-hander into a reliever for the remainder of this year.
Since rejoining the Mariners on July 9, Brash has missed bats on a regular basis. But he’s still walking batters at a higher than preferred rate. That said, you can see what the team likes in the 24-year-old.
Matt Brash As A Reliever
In theory, veteran Ken Giles, currently on a rehab assignment, could be a big plus for the Mariners over the final two months of the season. That’s assuming good health.
The first season of Giles two-year pact with Seattle was spent recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent before joining the team. In 2022, the right-hander has missed time to a finger injury and then a shoulder issue he’s currently rehabbing. It’s worth mentioning the Mariners will be careful with Giles. Therefore, the New Mexico native probably won’t be used on consecutive days when he initially returns.
In the final days leading up to the deadline, the Mariners didn’t make a significant upgrade to its offense. That said, the team did acquire Jake Lamb from the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday. Not a marquee name like Juan Soto, but Lamb could potentially help the lineup nonetheless.
Lamb was an All-Star in 2017 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, although injuries have plagued him during his nine big-league seasons. In limited action with the Dodgers this season, the former Washington Husky has been productive.
Jake Lamb in 2022
77 Plate appearances
It’s worth noting Los Angeles has used the left-handed Lamb almost exclusively (72 of 77 plate appearances) against right-handed pitching. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Mariners use Lamb in a platoon role or have other ideas on how to maximize his value to the team.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention late-June addition Carlos Santana. The switch-hitter helped fill a void at first base created when Ty France landed on the injured list. With the Mariners, Santana is slashing a weak .183/.297/.376 with a 95 wRC+, although he does have five home runs in 107 plate appearances.
With France hurting again, Santana continues to be extremely valuable at first base. Still, Lamb can also play the position. Could this fact affect the 36-year-old’s role or future with the Mariners?
In reality, the Mariners are banking heavily on the return of right fielder Mitch Haniger from the IL to bolster run production. Haniger has played in just nine games this season due to a COVID infection and then a high ankle sprain. Barring a setback in his current rehab assignment, the 31-year-old should return to the team in the near future. Even if Haniger initially struggles to regain his form from a year ago, his bat will be an upgrade by simply being league-average.
The other internal option representing a potential boost to the lineup is outfielder Kyle Lewis, who missed the early part of this season as he recovered from knee surgery. Lewis returned in May, but suffered a concussion in his fourth game. The 27-year-old would miss two months before rejoining the Mariners in late July.
Lewis can certainly help the offense. But his knee issues are limiting his ability to consistently play the outfield and the team has multiple designated hitter options with France, Santana, Haniger, and possibly Lamb now in the mix. How will the Mercer product fit in?
Cal Raleigh is having a great season; a breakout campaign. But he’s also playing a lot. Within the next two weeks, he should reach career highs in games played and innings. That’s as a collegian and a professional. For this reason, raising the floor of the catcher position was critical. Doing so would give the Mariners the opportunity to spot Raleigh more often and provide insurance in case the Florida State alum suffered an injury.
At the beginning of the season, the Mariners seemingly had plenty of catching depth. But a lot has changed since then. Opening Day catcher Tom Murphy had season-ending shoulder surgery, while Luis Torrens has struggled both offensively and defensively. If Seattle were to lose Raleigh, its options would have been Torrens and probably Brian O’Keefe from Class-AAA Tacoma.
The Mariners addressed the situation by acquiring Casali, who is currently on the IL with an oblique strain suffered in early-July. That said, he was three games into a rehab stint when the deal went down. Barring setbacks, the right-handed hitter should join his new club in the near future.
Curt Casali in 2022
126 Plate appearances
It’s worth noting Casali has enjoyed more success (.345 AVG) against left-handed pitching than righties (.190 AVG) this season, although we’re dealing with a very small sample. Another important factor to consider, the 33-year-old is considered an above average defender behind the plate.
On To The Postseason?
Did the Mariners improve their chances of reaching the postseason? Yes. How much likely depends on your perspective.
At this point, it’s fair to say Dipoto has more faith in what the current roster can produce than a vocal segment of the Mariners’ fan base does. That’s understandable considering so much hinges on a productive return by Haniger and the pitching staff remaining intact through the regular season and into the playoffs. On the other hand, Dipoto did acquire the best starting pitcher available on the market.
If Dipoto didn’t do enough prior to the deadline, it will become glaringly obvious over the next two months. Then again, if the roster does gel, there will be reason for celebration in the Emerald City well into October. That in of itself makes this team worth watching for the remainder of the season.
And perhaps the postseason.
My Oh My…
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